Highway 1 Is Now Open Again on California’s Big Sur Coast

You can take a classic Big Sur road trip once again now that a section of Highway 1 is open. AFAR joined 80 other cars for the ride.

Highway 1 Is Now Open Again on California’s Big Sur Coast

Highway 1 is officially open again for Big Sur road trips.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

A series of winter storms in 2017 not only wiped out the bridge that connected Monterey County to Big Sur, but also caused a mudslide later that spring that destroyed a section of Highway 1, effectively cutting off the coastal community from the rest of the state.

While the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge opened in October 2017, Caltrans finally reopened the southern entrance on July 18—two days ahead of schedule—allowing travelers to drive all the way through Big Sur once again for the first time in 16 months.

Big news: contractor John Madonna made great progress past week so final roadway striping & inspection by our crews is underway. As a result, #Hwy1 at Mud Creek south of #BigSur will RE-OPEN tomorrow Weds, July 18 by 10am, nearly 14 months after massive landslide on May 20, 2017. pic.twitter.com/YOeZGEHy9H — Caltrans District 5 (@CaltransD5) July 17, 2018

Up until this point, the community’s main attractions—like the newly renovated Ventana Big Sur and McWay Falls—were accessible from the north, but drivers and cyclists alike faced roadblocks about 30 miles south of Big Sur near the town of Gorda.

To rebuild the quarter mile of Highway 1 that the mudslide took out, Caltrans had to move the highway 250 feet west of its original location due to the amount of dirt and rocks that fell from the hillside above the road.

The project cost $54 million to complete, but heavy-duty fabric reinforcements in the soil have been built in to make sure the road isn’t destroyed once again, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

AFAR’s Tim Chester joined a convey of classic cars driving down the famous road in August to celebrate the reopening.

Cruising in a Corvette Through Big Sur’s delights

From the moment our bus ascended through the Monterey county mist to the famous WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, we knew this drive was going to be special.

Laid out on the tarmac, sorted by decade from the ’50s to today, were more than 80 gleaming cars being polished and fussed over by 80 loving drivers, all raring to loop the famous track and drive on down the previously inaccessible route.

I was riding in a 1958 Chevy Corvette with Clay Jackson, an affable local who owns a home in the shadow of the famous Bixby Bridge. We joined the procession westward and then south, through Monterey cypress trees and a handful of redwoods until the road began hugging the water for the next 100-odd miles.

A stubborn ocean mist squatted over the curves, bridges, and canyons early on, frustrating some roadside Instagram attempts but lending the scene a cinematic feel to those that were enjoying it in the moment. We pit-stopped at the recently renovated Ventana Big Sur, and I was given a tour of the jaw-dropping exclusivity of Post Ranch Inn, a place of exquisite brunch, tree houses perched on the continent’s precipice, and mesmerizing views of the Pacific.

After several mimosas, we continued south, navigating the previously inaccessible parts, sections of cleared mud and new road that have made the route navigable again. It’s a work in progress, and it’s still down to one lane at one point. Thankfully, we had several CHP motorbikes, police cars both modern and vintage, and stewards along the way to stop everyone else on the road and wave us through. Several drones shooting photos and a news helicopter added to the sense of occasion.

The cars process across Bixby Bridge.

The cars process across Bixby Bridge.

Photo by Angie Pappas/Visit California

The drinking continued for nondrivers at Hearst Ranch Winery at San Simeon—an area that harbors an abundance of diversions, from imposing Hearst Castle to the eccentric town of Cambria, home to my in-laws (who of course were waving furiously as we barreled by). Bluffside hikes, elephant seal–spotting, and the wine country inland toward Paso Robles also make this segment of central coast worth the trip. We finished in the shadow of Morro Rock, where the parking lot had been cleared and filled with food, drink, s’mores stations, and live surf music.

All 80 cars made it to the finish line at Morro Rock.

All 80 cars made it to the finish line at Morro Rock.

Photo by Angie Pappas/Visit California

I’ve always loved this spot, with easy surfing to the north, calm kayak waters to the south, and the charming harbor a stroll away. Now, thanks to the herculean efforts of Caltrans, places like this are more accessible regardless of which compass point you’re coming from. This article was originally published on July 18th, 2018; it was updated on August 15th, 2018, to include reporting from the classic car drive.

>> Next: This Landmark Hotel Was Reborn After a Natural Disaster in Big Sur

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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